Iceland Drops in Corruption Rankings

Boat with Samherji Logo

Iceland is down two spots in Transparency International’s corruption rankings and now sits in 19th place. The Nordic countries, apart from Iceland, rank at the top as some of the least corrupt countries in the world, Heimildin reports.

Transparency International, a global movement to end the injustice of corruption, published its list this morning. Each country is rated on the basis of factors linked to corruption in the public sector, with 0 being the most corrupt and 100 the least corrupt. As it stands, Iceland has a rating of 72, the lowest rating it’s ever received. The country dropped two points and two spots from last year. In 2005 and 2006, Iceland ranked as the least corrupt country in the world before revelations related to the financial crash of 2008 saw it move down the list.

Samherji case highlighted

In a notice from the Icelandic office of Transparency International, a number of bribery cases, the privatisation of the publicly-owned Íslandsbanki, the Samherji bribery scandal, political uncertainty, and a corrupt fisheries system are named as examples of factors that have decreased public faith in good governance.

The Icelandic office specifically mentions the 2019 revelations that Samherji, one of Iceland’s largest seafood companies, had allegedly bribed Namibian government officials to gain access to lucrative fishing grounds, while also taking advantage of international loopholes to avoid taxes. A number of Namibian officials are already on trial for their part in the scandal, but in Iceland, no one has been charged in the four years since the story broke.

“Namibia has 49 points, unchanged from last year,” the notice reads. “The Icelandic office would like to highlight that Namibia is down three points since the Samherji case began. During the same time period, Iceland dropped six points.”

Nordics top the list

Transparency International was founded in 1992 and now operates in over 100 countries. They’re independent, non-governmental, and not-for-profit and have a vision for “a world in which government, politics, business, civil society and the daily lives of people are free of corruption”, according to their website.

Denmark is the least corrupt country according to the index, with 90 out of 100 points. Finland, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore and Sweden follow. The most corrupt country in the world is Somalia, according to the index, with South Sudan, Syria, Venezuela, Yemen and North Korea ranking just above it.

Iceland Maintains 14th Place on Annual Corruption Index

Iceland is in 14th place on Transparency International’s Annual Corruption Perceptions Index. The newly-released report measures corruption in 180 countries, with Denmark landing first in this year’s rankings and Somalia in last place.

Iceland maintains the same ranking and score it held last year. However, when the last decade is observed, its score has dropped from 82 in 2012 to 74 in 2022. On the scale used by Transparency International, 0 represents “highly corrupt” while 100 represents “very clean.”

Transparency International reports that the global average score has remained unchanged for a decade, at just 43 out of 100. “Despite concerted efforts and hard-won gains by some, 155 countries have made no significant progress against corruption or have declined since 2012.”

The Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) is the most widely used global corruption ranking in the world. It measures how corrupt each country’s public sector is perceived to be, according to experts and businesspeople. Each country’s score is a combination of at least 3 data sources drawn from 13 different corruption surveys and assessments. These data sources are collected by a variety of reputable institutions, including the World Bank and the World Economic Forum.

Commissioner’s Father Unable to Account for Dozens of Firearms

Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir - Police Commissioner in Iceland

The father of Police Commissioner Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir was unable to account for dozens of firearms discovered at his home during an investigation of a domestic-terror plot. No investigation was opened into his actions, despite his admission that he had sold illegally modified weapons in exchange for cash payment, RÚV reports.

Conflict of interest leads to recusal

As reported in late September, National Police Commissioner Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir recused herself from an investigation into a domestic-terror plot after the home of her father, Guðjón Valdimarsson – a well-known weapons collector and vendor – was searched during the investigation.

According to RÚV, a search of Guðjón’s home revealed nearly forty unlicensed firearms, for which Guðjón was unable to adequately account. Guðjón was not arrested, however, and the police have not divulged his legal status in relation to the investigation.

This is not the first time that Sigríður Björk has been forced to recuse herself from an investigation. In 2018, Sigríður’s father was also entangled in an investigation involving the alleged offence of an individual in possession of a DPMS rifle that had been modified to function as semi-automatic.

“In that case, the sole aim of the investigation was whether the buyer – who did not have the knowledge, the tools, nor the access to spare parts – had modified the weapon himself. The individual who sold the rifle, however, was only interrogated as a witness,” Einar Gautur Steingrímsson, attorney for the man who was charged with the weapons offence, told RÚV.

No investigation opened despite modification

As noted by RÚV, the accused was acquitted before the Court of Appeal (Landsréttur) as the prosecution failed to prove that he had modified the weapon. The case was thereby closed, without any investigation being opened into whether Guðjón Valdimarsson, or someone else, had modified the weapon.

“It’s completely mind-boggling that someone who sells a firearm, which has been modified, is not the subject of the investigation alongside the buyer; the person who modified the weapon is not investigated but rather the person who couldn’t,” Einar Gautur added.

Guðjón was, however, interrogated, although the interrogation was conducted at his home in Hafnarfjörður and not at the police station. Police reports do not indicate why the interrogation took place at his home.

RÚV also notes that it possesses documents proving that the defendant in the aforementioned case had paid Guðjón ISK 1.5 million ($10,00 / €10,000) for the weapon, in cash. No receipt or invoice changed hands during the time of the transaction (i.e. no tax was paid). During his interrogation, Guðjón partially confirmed that the transaction had been conducted with cash for ISK 700,000 ($5,000 / €5,00).

“Nothing to suggest” misconduct

In an interview with Vísir published this morning, Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson maintained that the police had not protected the Police Commissioner’s father.

“I’ve no information to indicate that such a thing happened,” Jón remarked. “As far as that older case (from 2018) is concerned, during a time when the Police Commissioner was employed as the Chief of the Capital Area Police, she declared her conflict of interest and recused herself. The investigation was subsequently transferred to someone else.”

Jón went on to suggest that he wasn’t adequately familiar with the details of the current investigation to comment but that the Police Commissioner appeared to have comported herself ethically.

When asked whether it wasn’t clear that the legislation on firearms needed to be amended – to prevent individuals from hoarding firearms, among them semi-automatic weapons – Jón stated that he hoped such amendments would be concluded before the end of the year.

“When I arrived at the Ministry, I realised that this legislation would need to be reviewed. We’re in the process of doing so now, as I’ve previously announced.”

More Needs to Be Done to Prevent Corruption in Iceland

police car

Iceland has only dealt with four out of 18 recommendations from the Council of Europe to prevent corruption in the central government and law enforcement, according to a new report. The document was issued by the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption institution GRECO, and states that Iceland needs to tighten regulations on public officials and lobbyism, as well as limit political interference in law enforcement agencies.

“While GRECO appreciates the holistic approach taken by the authorities addressing conflicts of interest of persons with top executive functions, there is a lack of guidance for public officials on their contacts with third parties and lobbyists, and the introduced rules on post-employment restrictions are rather weak, especially the scope and length of the cooling off period,” a press release from the Council of Europe reads.

“GRECO also regrets that no progress has been made in addressing discrepancies between the codes of conduct applicable to persons with top executive functions and on providing guidance and confidential counselling to them,” the press release continues, saying awareness-raising mechanisms on integrity for those in top positions have yet to be implemented.

Transparent Recruitment Lacking in Law Enforcement

In its report, GRECO welcomes the adoption of the new law on protection of whistleblowers, while saying that “specific measures for its implementation in practice will also be needed.” In law enforcement agencies, GRECA adds that Iceland “needs to limit political interference, and to introduce transparent and fair recruitment procedures,” including by “systematically advertising vacancies, putting in place career procedures and providing criteria for non-renewal of contracts.”

“GRECO appreciates the measures taken in raising awareness through regular training of the police staff on integrity-related matters but regrets the lack of progress with updating the Codes of Conduct of the Police and the Coast Guard. Moreover, GRECO calls the Icelandic authorities to establish an effective mechanism of confidential counselling and for the supervision of internal inquiries, as well as introduce a regulatory framework on gifts, hospitality and other benefits.”

Prime Minister’s Bill Targets Conflicts of Interest

Katrín Jakobsdóttir

Government officials will have to disclose their financial interests and all lobbyists will be registered as such if a bill recently introduced by the Prime Minister is passed. The bill aims to prevent conflicts of interest among cabinet ministers and other higher-ups in the Icelandic government, Kjarninn reports.

Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir has introduced a bill in parliament, the purpose of which is to “limit as far as possible the impacts of conflict of interest on the jobs of the highest executive authorities working within the government of Iceland.” The bill refers specifically to cabinet ministers, permanent secretaries, secretaries-general, and ambassadors.

The legislation would require all working in the aforementioned positions to state and explain in detail their financial and business interests, as well as those of their spouses and dependent children. Lobbyists who interact with politicians and government administration in that capacity would be required to register as such, a proposal the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) has previously opposed.

Chief government executives and their assistants would not be able to hold other jobs while they were in government and would be banned from working as lobbyists until six months after they stop working in government. They would also not be allowed to “use information the had access to through public service for their own or others’ unreasonable profit.”

If the bill is passed, it will take effect on January 1, 2021.

More Arrests in Wake of Samherji Scandal

Sacky Shanghala, former Minister of Justice in Namibia, and James Hatuikulipi, former managing director of Investec Asset Management, were arrested this morning at their Namibian ranch, RÚV reports. Both of them had previously resigned from their positions following the Samherji scandal.

In a conversation with the Namibian, Paulus Noa, Director-General of the Anti-Corruption Commission, confirmed the arrest in a conversation this morning. According to Noa, more information will be made available later today.

As RÚV notes, James Hatuikulipi has amassed considerable wealth through private government contracts. Hatuikulipi is currently being investigated for money laundering, fraud, and corruption involving 150 million Namibian Dollars (ca. $10 million).

Minister of Fisheries, Bernhardt Esau, also resigned following the scandal and was arrested last Sunday. He was released soon afterwards on a technicality, owing to an error in the arrest warrant. According to Paulus Noa, a new arrest warrant will be issued soon.

Esau’s son-in-law, Tamson “Fitty” Hatuikulipi, cousin of James Hatuikulipi, and his colleague Ricardo Gustavo are also implicated in the case, along with Pius “Taxa” Mwatelulo, another relative of James Hatuikulipi.

A Brief Recap

Earlier this month, the investigative journalism programme Kveikur (which was produced in collaboration with Stundin and Al Jazeera Investigates) reported that companies owned by the Icelandic fishing company Samherji are alleged to have paid high-ranking officials in Namibia – and individuals connected to them – more than ISK one billion since 2012 to ensure access to horse-mackerel fishing quotas in the country. Last Saturday, an anti-corruption protest was organised on Austurvöllur square.

Anti-Corruption Protest on Austurvöllur Square Tomorrow

In the wake of the Samherji scandal, the Constitutional Society; Efling Trade-Union; the Icelandic Disability Alliance; the Women’s Association for a New Constitution; Gagnsæi, the Anti-Corruption Association; along with private citizens and guilds will be holding an anti-corruption protest on Austurvöllur square tomorrow. The protest will begin at 14:00.

Approximately 1,200 people have expressed interest in the protest on its Facebook page. Over 700 people intend on attending. The text on the page reads as follows:

“Citizens must take matters into their own hands! It’s up to us to decide whether we live in a democracy or a plutocracy.

Namibian citizens are robbed by a major Icelandic fishing company. Icelandic citizens are robbed by a major Icelandic fishing company, which has no qualms about bribery.

This theft occurs under the aegis of a dated Constitution, under an economy that places too much power in the hands of the wealthy, and under a political class that is too submissive to small and powerful fishing companies.”

Organisers demand that that Minister of Fisheries, Kristján Þór Júlíusson, resign; that Parliament legally adopt a new constitution, which was approved by referendum in 2012 (wherein natural resources are declared “national property”;  and that the profits from natural resources be pooled into a public fund dedicated to societal development and to ensure a decent standard of living for all.”

Katrín Oddsdóttir will preside over the protest. Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir (Chair of Efling Trade-Union), journalist Atli Þór Fanndal, and lawyer Þórður Már Jónsson will also be speaking. The band Hatari is slated to perform.